Parlayin’ with Adam Kitamoto (Ten Ten Tattoo Studios)

May 16, 2011

The world of tattooing and tattoo art is constantly growing and changing. Not always more the better with the rise in unprofessional backyard tattooers and eBay putting tattoo machines in the hands of under-trained kids. But there are a few tattooers right here in Melbourne that are consistently pursuing perfection in their art and keeping the traditions alive. These traditions are important for the art of tattooing, an understanding and respect for the history behind the art form is a key factor that separates the good from the great.

Adam Kitamoto is one of these tattooers pushing for the knowledge of tattooing. He opened Ten-Ten Tattoo Studio three years ago and has dedicated his career to Japanese tattooing, understanding its history, and pursuing a strong drive for perfection. I recently had the pleasure to sit down and talk with Adam about his passion for understanding and remaining true to the tattoo art form, his love for Japanese tattoos, and the importance of hard work.

Adam, I’m sure a lot of people know of you, but for those who don’t, can you please introduce yourself, your studio and what you do on the daily?
My name is Adam Kitamoto and my studio is Ten-Ten Tattoo. I spend around 6 hours a day tattooing and 98% of my work is Japanese tattoo.

For someone to master the art of tattooing, it would take a lot of dedication, practice and time. How long have you been goin’ at it for and what was involved to getting to where you’re at now?
I have been tattooing for 7 years, and I think you never get a handle on things. The moment I start getting comfortable with what I do, it evolves. It’s never a straightforward run with tattooing; there’s always something new, new hurdles to overcome. Tattooing is always an up hill challenge and I am constantly learning new things. It’s definitely not an easy job.

I love tattooing and have been into since I was a kid when I skipped out of class in high school to head down to the local tattoo shop to get my first tattoos. How did you get introduced to the world of tattooing? Care to share your story?
I was quite young when I got tattooed, about 22 years ago. From that I was inspired by the vibe of the studio, the artwork hanging on the walls, and what other people were getting tattooed on them. I had always been drawing and it just triggered a fascination for the art form. It took a long time to break into the industry, as it is a hard one to break into. It took me almost 14 years and I’m very happy with where I am now.

First tattoos are always the most memorable, what was your first tattoo and what was the first you ever gave anyone?
I don’t quiet remember the first tattoo I did, I think it was a bonji on a friend of mine, but don’t quote me on that. My first tattoo I got was a rose with a bass clef on my shoulder.

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I’m sure a lot of people would like to know what you did before you started tattooing. Tell us a little about your days before becoming a tattooer.
Before I was tattooing I was working various jobs, the last job I was doing was as a painter and decorator. I just bounced all over the place, nothing really worth mentioning.

Every tattooer has their own style and a favorite body part they love working on. What is it about oriental tattoos that you love? Which area of the body would you consider your favorite to work on?
The thing I like about oriental tattoos is its mystic; it’s got a lot of depth and history to it. That’s one of the initial things I found that attracted me to it. I love the power of Japanese tattoos and the sophistication to them as well.
Doing Japanese tattoos is quiet physically taxing, because you are working on such large areas. For me, a half sleeve onto the chest is comfortable to do and you can do a lot of interesting things on that scale. I find it quiet rewarding because you can get through that size reasonably quickly and get quicker results with the tattoo. It takes about 14-17 hours to get through a piece that size, depending on detail and clients skin.

Here’s the million dollar question… What is it about tattooing that you enjoy so much?
I enjoy trying to archive my goals and doing Japanese tattoos. I mainly enjoy trying to beat myself at what I do. Artistically, my goals are to attain perfection.

What’s one tattoo that you would NEVER do… even if you got paid a million bucks to do?
I wouldn’t tattoo anything to do with racism. That’s a big one for me.

Who are some of the artists that have tattooed you? And are you looking to get any more work done?
Tattooers who have tattooed me are Matting Cunnington from Westside Tattoo in Brisbane, an amazing guy and one of my biggest mentors, I love his work and he is a lovely guy and one of the best tattooers in the world. Horimitsu Yokohama in Japan in 2000. At the moment I don’t think I want to collect anymore pieces, I feel very satisfied with my body suit, plus it’s very neat, if I were to go outside of that, it loses some of its charm. When and if do get tattooed again I want to get tattooed in Japan.
I’m sure you have worked with many tattoo artists in your time, who did you enjoy working with most and why?
I’d have to say working with Ryo from Japan, he’s recently been working with me, Working with him has been an absolute pleasure. Working with Matt Cunnington, Loz Hockings from Westside were awesome too. I was working out at Westside. Josh Roelink and tong from Tatudharma. All those guys were great to work with. Cat Clawz tattoo in Kyoto Japan was amazing, They are a great crew and good friends of mine.

Do you express yourself with other mediums beyond the needle? Water color, acrylic, spray paint etc?
Yeah I try to do artwork whenever I can, when I have a bit more time I would do bit more water colour painting. But right now I don’t have the time, just with drawing for tattooing and all the domestics of living. I’d like to do more if I could find the time.

We’ve seen that you are working on at least one big back piece that covers around both sides and down the leg! Epic effort! Do you have any other big pieces on the go at the moment and have you got anything out of the ordinary that you’ll be working on soon?
Yeah we’ve put in heaps of hours on that piece. I’m also working on a fellow with a very interesting torso, doing a back piece on him, very thin and long. The subject is a dragon and phoenix facing off, and quiet tricky to have the right impact. It’s very challenging so I am enjoying it alot.

Traveling can be tricky when you own your own shop sometimes, but the ramifications of attending or being apart of a national or international tattoo convention is out of this world! Tell us your travel experiences, stories from the conventions you’ve attended and your future plans for taking part in a tattoo convention.
I recently attended the Sydney tattoo convention, I didn’t work there but went up and had a look around. Funnily I didn’t get to see much cause I was catching up with everyone I knew. I was working at the recent Melbourne convention, and Rites of Passage at the Royale Exhibition Building. But with the shop being so busy I don’t have lots of time to travel. I will be working at the Melbourne tattoo convention in September*.

The tattooing industry can be a hard one to crack sometimes you said yourself that it took you 14 years to break into it, what would your advise be to someone who is starting out?
Be true to the art behind tattooing, take responsibility for looking after people health wise. And just practice drawing. Don’t get an ego, it is just a job. We are fortunate to be able to tattoo as a job and do something we love, but it’s still just a job. Be true is the main thing, what you can contribute to being a tattooist, what you can contribute to doing something artistically humane.

2012 hits the world! You’re the only one that survived. What are your first steps to rebuilding the world?
Rebuilding the world…. Hmmm interesting. Probably for myself if I could maintain some of the tradition of Japanese knowledge that would be good. Other then that, try to live a humble and clean life. I’ll also try to fit in some breeding for the human race.

Is there anyone you would like to thank for where you are today?
Josh Roelink, Matt Cunnington, Cat Claw Tattoo in Japan, all my influences from Japanese tattooing and Japanese art (too many to list!) and my wife.

Adam, thank you so much for taking time off to have a chat with us. We really appreciate it and wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Please do keep us posted with the latest. Cheers!

Ten-Ten Tattoo: 887 Burke Road, Camberwell, Melbourne, Australia.
Phone: (03) 9882-2851
www.ten-ten.com.au

Note: Details on the Melbourne Tattoo Expo in September will be up shortly stay tuned!

Words by Kyle Wakeham

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